I almost don’t know where to start…
If you’re a reader of my own skeptical blog, Confessions of an Asshole Skeptic (Took only two sentences to get to my plug — YES! New personal best!) then you may be expecting a vitriol laced stream of invective about my subjet du jour but I promised myself I would show some restraint at this URL…. but I’ve gotta tell ya… it’s already difficult.
A fellow Skeptic North blogger, Scott, brought this little kernel to my attention — the new film My Toxic Baby, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. I have been unable to see the film at the time of this writing, but the messages behind the film — the positions of the director are loud and clear in this interview with the film’s director, Min Sook Lee, in the Globe & Mail… I almost don’t know where to start.
The interview is a minefield of bad information. Her story apparently started with a presumably not-totally-un-reasonable concern about bisphenol-A (In her very first sentence in her first answer she claims bisphenol-A was invented in the fifties… FAIL! Not an auspicious start.) which turned into full blown hysteria over a laundry list of variously unavoidable, unremarkable, marginally toxic and imaginary substances in her world… and in some cases she even made things worse.
I could spend a month’s worth of posts just doing a sweep for those logical equivalents of IEDs alone… but I’m not going to do that. Everyone of these sub-subjects has been dealt with by many others previously to me and I don’t intend to start my contribution to Skeptic North with a standard issue skeptical broken-record litany itemizing fallacy and fact. There’s plenty of time for that later, but I can hardly hold myself back so here’s a quick sample:
- Bisphenol-A — I don’t know what she claims in the film, but in her interview it doesn’t appear as though she is cognizant of either the fact that the toxic effects of BPA are uncertain, and that in Canada we have already erred on the side of caution.
- Organic Food — Sorry Min Sook, organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free, anyone who tries to tell you otherwise — amusingly — is trying to sell you something.
- Childhood Cancer — “Today we have the highest rate of childhood cancer.” BzzzT! Wrong! The peak in Canada was about a decade ago and even so the rate has “remained relatively stable since 1985″ according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
- “Unprecedented levels of autism” — Which has everything to do with the broadened scope of what constitutes autism, as anyone familiar with the reality-based side of the anti-vaccination crisis can tell you.
And all this before we get into her apparent misunderstanding (and outright misuse) of the term “baby industrial complex”; tearing kitchen cupboards out because of lead paint being previously used on them (which would have put more lead into her immediate environment than leaving the cupboards alone); her obliviousness to the reality that toxicity is in the dose — “are there acceptable levels? Frankly I don’t think so”; or the absurd double standard demonstrated in her opinion of seaweed — “even though its not organic, you know its good for you.” I’m sure her rationalizations of these positions would have me screaming obscenities at my laptop had the interview been more rigorous.
She caps it all off with her own version of the “mommy-instinct“: “I trust myself…. That’s how it is with mothering. You do your own surveys and then you go back to your own spine.”
I’ll be curious to see the film itself, though I fully anticipate that it will be an equivalent to Zeitgeist or Loose Change for the new-parent set. I’ll have to make a point of watching it in private — it’s far too likely that I’ll be groaning in scientific anguish at the screen. Looking into my crystal ball I see the phrases “did you use ANY primary resources?!” and “ebola is natural too — so are humans — hell, EVERYTHING is natural!!” in my future.
What specifically angers me in all of this is the irresponsible film-making. Documentaries should be an exercise in good research in service of the truth, but so often they aren’t. Indeed, many documentary film makers (Michael Moore, I am looking at you.) choose their subject based on an emotional attachment (fair enough, emotion IS the currency of film) and then cherry pick the evidence they need in order to support their a priori position. The truth becomes a tool that adds a patina of respectability to their agenda and anything empirical which happens to contradict the film maker’s position is (at best) merely an inconvenient truth.